Why Sony’s DRM Nightmare Has Been Good for Consumer Rights

sony bmg cds“I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” This World War II quote by Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto should be echoed in the hectic halls of Sony-BMG. Except, this time, the sleeping giant is not America, but the consumer – and this giant will not be easily put down. For those not in the know – Sony-BMG recently added “security” measures to the CD’s of their artists in an effort to curb piracy. However, Sony’s DRM (Digital Rights Management) scheme was little more than a piece of glorified spyware. Now, everyone from Microsoft, to the consumer to the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) is up in arms over the malicious code and Sony’s recent attempts to defend its use and implementation.

Given that Sony has taken to installing spyware to protect their music, you may be wondering why this episode in the DRM struggle has been good for the consumer. Simple: consumer awareness. For the past several years, much has been made of viruses and spyware and their adverse effects on our computers. The industry designed to stop these threats brings in tens of millions of dollars every year to stop these vicious pieces of software. The average consumer understands what a virus or spyware is. However, stop most consumers and ask them to explain DRM and you’ll probably get a blank stare. Up until now, the consumer has been uneducated on what DRM is and how it will affect their daily lives. The major music and movie studios have been fine with this; and now that awareness is changing.

The studios have been very slow to adopt the changes in technology. To this day, you cannot “legally” convert a DVD you bought into a file that can be played on your computer or portable device. Until recently, the music studios fought a digital distribution method for music until Apple forced them into the game. The traditional models of revenue are quickly being antiquated and the studios are panicking. The “compromise” was to use DRM; managing what you could do with the DVD or CD you had bought. However, with no standard for DRM, the studios were left to determine what you could do with “their” content. For the most part, consumers have been either a) unaware of DRM or b) aware and unconcerned. To the average consumer, DRM doesn’t matter as long as the music they want ends up on their iPod. Enter Sony-BMG.

When Sony-BMG implemented their latest DRM spyware scheme, they did what none of the studios wanted; they made the consumer aware AND concerned about DRM. Lawsuits have started, the EFF is up in arms, and now, even Microsoft is expressing concern about Sony-BMG’s foray into DRM spyware. Companies like Computer Associates are even treating Sony-BMG’s DRM as spyware in their anti-virus programs. Even though Sony-BMG has released a patch to disable the issue, the damage has been done. The average consumer is beginning to wake; and seeing DRM in the same light as viruses and spyware is definitely NOT what the major studios were hoping for. If this issue is kept alive in the media and the blogosphere, the studios will be forced to open the dialogue on DRM and consumer rights. Hopefully, DRM and consumer rights can be discussed, and a solution devised, that will allow the consumer to use his purchased media without the fear of criminal persecution or a spyware infected PC.

Filed in: Industry Buzz